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More Utah parents saying ‘no’ to statewide school tests

Schools, teachers may be affected because of hundreds of students opting out of new tests.

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A new way to skip » Many districts have also, for the first time this year, created official forms for parents to opt out. Some, such as Canyons and Provo, explain to parents what they’re missing.

At a glance

No more fill-in-the-bubble

The name of Utah’s new SAGE tests stands for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence. Read more about these computer adaptive tests at http://bit.ly/1dZGEFh.

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The Canyons form has parents acknowledge that SAGE results are used "to review student progress toward learning targets, plan instruction, provide teacher feedback, inform potential course placement, and allow for public reporting about school quality."

Ben Horsley, Granite spokesman, said Granite created its form this year after receiving generic forms parents downloaded from websites.

"Recognizing there was an organized effort to have parents opt their kids out of SAGE testing and computer-adaptive testing mostly related to the Common Core," Horsley said, "we wanted to create our own form to do so."

The Common Core academic standards outline what students should learn in each grade in math and English to be ready for college and careers. Critics worry they’re impeding local control and not rigorous enough, while proponents say schools maintain control over curriculum and the standards are more rigorous than Utah’s old ones.

Christel Swasey, with Utahns Against Common Core, said the standards are one reason she opted her high-schooler out of SAGE testing this year.

"The tests are based on what I consider to be illegitimate academic standards," Swasey said.

The website for Utahns Against Common Core offers a link to a two-page opt-out form that includes many of the arguments some parents have made against SAGE. Norton said the link has been shared nearly 500 times on Facebook.

The form letter says parents are shunning the tests to protect their children from behavioral testing and to avoid having their individual scores shared with the federal government and private entities.

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Fear vs. facts » Those arguments, however, simply don’t hold water, Park said.

Some parents have been worried because the company that helped create the test, American Institutes for Research, describes itself as a "behavioral and social science research and evaluation" organization.

But Park said the company’s behavioral research is separate from its contract with Utah for SAGE, which tests only academic skills.

Some parents also worry their children’s personal information is being shared with the U.S. government.

Park, however, said only aggregate data — about children as groups, not individuals — is sent to the federal government, as it has been for years, including when the state gave CRTs.

Ray Morgan, Provo assistant superintendent, agreed.

"We’ve been performing this kind of test since 1998 and there hasn’t been negative reaction to that that I was aware of until this year," Morgan said, "and I believe that’s connected to information or ideas people have connected to the Common Core."

A panel of 15 Utah parents spent a week last year reading thousands of questions, flagging anything questionable. Still, some parents remain concerned, unhappy that they’re not allowed to see them.

Utah Common Core opponents have pointed to a Utah student’s cellphone photo of one SAGE question as evidence of warped content.

The question asked students to imagine they lived in an alternate world where video games were invented before books and considered superior to books, citing several reasons. Students were asked to write an essay in response, addressing opposing viewpoints.

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